On Emancipation Sunday, the Abolition Act 1833 was read from a reprint published by the Virgin Islands Public Library in 1984. The following year, the library also published a reprint of Isaac Pickering’s 1798 Virgin Islands Plantation Map.
Those two significant documents were published in observance of 150 years of emancipation, so that they could be easily available to the general public.
Writing in the foreword to the reprint of the Abolition Act 1833, as chief librarian at the time, I evoked some thought on what the act might have been saying to us in 1984.
In the light of Samuel Johnson’s definition of the law — being “the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public” — I found the following:
1) the act came about as a result of factors including prior broad-based involvement (of human experience) in Haiti and Jamaica, for instance; the agitation of the slaves themselves; the planters’ economic loss; the humanitarians’ conscience; and the legislators’ duty;
2) the proclamation was disseminated and read to slaves in the Virgin Islands; and
3) it was the first piece of human rights legislation effected in the Caribbean.
I also called for a review of laws of a human-rights nature passed in the VI since 1834 and for an examination of methods employed for their formulation and effective dissemination.
A subsequent review by attorney Dancia Penn found 33 pieces of legislation of a human rights nature, touching on social, economic and political development. However, she recorded that “many of the laws are outdated and cannot in 1984 be considered to constitute improvement in human development.”
I suggested that a new morality for the formulation of legislation might be characterised by the following: an embrace of broad-based input; effective dissemination of drafts, including discussion and hearings at various levels; language comprehensible by the layman; and timely revisions to facilitate new needs as the community grows.
That was almost four decades ago — and in 12 years, will be half a century ago! Legislation should lift the human spirit. It should provide some catalyst for good endeavour and human achievement.
While we are currently engaged with the demands of the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations and the constitutional review, we are sadly lacking a Human Rights Commission, a Freedom of Information Act, and a functional records management and archives system to support the FOIA. We did not have to wait for the COI’s recommendations to put the above-mentioned institutions in place. We were told exactly what to do, but we deliberately did not act. Oh, how we have lagged! Heaven knows what self-inflicting demons possessed us to have derailed our path so disastrously.
And now, what are we ready to do? Yes! “United we can achieve more together,” and “keep it going!” But without the demons of greed, fear, resentment, bitterness, power-hunger and sheer wickedness!
Virgin Islanders, if God wills, in 12 years we will celebrate 200 years of emancipation! What are our goals and aspirations as we contemplate that celebration? What is our national plan?
The Biblical Chronicles reminds us in Greek of “the events of the days” and in Hebrew of “things left out.” The paradox is that Chronicles tells the stories of God’s work in a nation’s life.
There must be a shift in our national life, from mere “whims and fancies” to an alignment with the expressed word of God. He only is the leader of all time!
Ms. Penn Moll is the territory’s former chief librarian and former chief archives and records management officer.